How's your turkey like them apples?

When my English in-laws recently asked me to explain Thanksgiving, I found myself stumbling over my words. They already knew the bit about the Pilgrims (they were English, too, after all), so I finally blurted, “Basically, you get together to watch football and eat a really big meal.” It sounded completely ridiculous, making me think about the tradition of Thanksgiving. Is the tradition creating the same food and drink line-up every single year? Or is it simply gathering for the meal that is the tradition?

In this media-obsessed country and era, we have scores of cooking shows, magazines, and websites pitching recipes for the perfect bird (brined? deep-fried? roasted?), the perfect stuffing (cornbread? sausage? Pepperidge Farm?) and the perfect pie (pumpkin? pecan? apple?). We are always trying something new—brussels sprouts instead of green beans, cranberry relish instead of jellied cranberry, potato gratin instead of mashed potatoes—and raving about our latest ultimate to others. Kitchen shops stock their shelves with electric knives, turkey lifters and flavor injectors. Well, here I am, your trusty wine columnist, to pitch yet another new Thanksgiving tradition—return to America’s oldest fruit and pair your meal with hard apple cider and apple brandy. 

Where to buy your Turkey Day cider

Foggy Ridge ciders are $16 and available online and at the tasting room in Dugspur, or locally at: Beer Run, Feast!, Greenwood Gourmet Grocery, Market Street Wineshop, Rio Hill Wine & Gourmet and Wine Warehouse. 

Albemarle Ciderworks ciders are $16 and available online, at the tasting room in North Garden or locally at: Basic Necessities, Beer Run, Feast!, Foods of All Nations, Greenwood Gourmet Grocery, In Vino Veritas, Market Street Wineshop, Mona Lisa Pasta, Rio Hill Wine & Gourmet, Tastings of Charlottesville, The Wine Guild of Charlottesville and Wine Warehouse.

Laird’s and Calvados are available at the ABC store.

Two artisan cider makers in our area, Foggy Ridge and Albemarle Ciderworks, make use of Virginia’s cornucopia of apples, from Graniwinkles to Pippins, in a process quite similar to winemaking. Varieties of apples are pressed and juices are blended and fermented with yeasts to varying levels of sweetness and alcohol levels (anywhere from 2 percent to 8.5 percent). Sometimes extra sugar is added to give the cider some sparkle. The U.S.’s apple brandy and applejack (Laird’s uses Shenandoah Valley apples) and Normandy’s Calvados take the process a step farther by concentrating the cider through freeze distillation and aging it in barrels until alcohol levels reach between 30 and 40 percent. 

No matter the variations across our Thanksgiving spreads, a mixture of sweet and salty prevails on every American turkey table. The full-fledged fruit and snappy acidity of hard cider makes it an exceptional accompaniment to a notoriously difficult meal to pair. It will happily partner with everything from the pre-feast Chex Mix to the main event’s stuffed star. And, with alcohol levels closer to beer than wine, you can stay sober long enough to carve the turkey without drawing blood.     

When you’ve managed your final bite and are gasping for air before dessert, pause for a glass of the stiffer stuff. In Normandy, it was customary at a grand dinner to sip a shot of Calvados in order to boost metabolism and free up space for more comestibles. Nothing like prolonging the pleasure of overindulgence with more indulgence. But, even if you choose to skip the glass of apple brandy, you can use it to brine your turkey, deglaze your roasting pan for gravy, fold it into your whipped cream or stir it into your coffee. And, better yet, if it lasts you until next Thanksgiving, you’ll have a tradition two years in the making.


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